Word 2011’s ribbon may appear to be locked to a default set of tabs and functions but it’s actually more customizable than its sibling applications Excel, Outlook and PowerPoint. Users can choose whether or not to display the ribbon at all, view tabs or rearrange tabs. Behavior between each Office 2011 application is inconsistent, so some settings need to be accessed in different ways.
Word 2011’s default ribbon
When opening a new Word document, the default behavior is to show the ribbon and to expand it to display each tool. Most all customization can be done in the ribbon’s preferences settings. While any document or a blank document is open, select Preferences… from the Word menu and click on the Ribbon button.
Vertical real estate is a colloquial term for the amount of your screen that’s used from top to bottom. Most users want to see as much as possible of their work but displaying menus, toolbars and the ribbon itself consumes vertical real estate and reduces visibility.
If you’d prefer to leave the ribbon available but only see it when you’re ready to see it then deselect Expand ribbon when document opens. This will leave the tabs such as Home, Layout, Document Elements, etc., visible but will hide the settings below them. Clicking the currently active tab will show or hide the ribbon as will clicking the show/hide button to the immediate right of the tabs.
To keep the tabs and settings visible but eek out just a little more space, select Hide group titles. This will remove items such as Font, Paragraph, Styles, etc., just above the settings.
Adding and removing settings
Just below the General preferences for the Ribbon are the Customize preferences. These allow you to enable or disable specific tabs and settings. By default, everything is selected except for Paragraph Indents & Spacing and Typography under the Home tab, Themes under the Layout tab and the Developer tab itself.
Enabling the Themes setting adds menu a menu button for themes as well as menu buttons for customizing theme colors and fonts to the Layout tab. Note that both Print Layout View and Publishing Layout View each have a Themes setting.
Enabling the Developer tab adds an entire new section to the ribbon for working with Visual Basic, Add-Ins and Forms. These settings are not commonly used except by developers who create customized documents that are typically circulated among many users such as those in a corporate environment.
Rearranging ribbon tabs
Contrary to the note for the Customize settings, tabs cannot be re-arranged in Word’s ribbon preferences. (PowerPoint 2011 allows re-arranging items from within the preferences area, so this may be enabled for Excel 2011 and Word 2011 in a future update.) Tabs can only be re-arranged by selecting Customize Ribbon Tab Order from the cog menu button to the far right of the tabs area.
A handle will appear on each tab. Grab the handle of a tab and drag it left or right. Other tabs will re-arrange themselves around the tab you’re dragging. Click the Reset button to return to the default tab order. Click the Done button to exit customization.
For the most part, these customizations are possible in other Office for Mac applications that have a ribbon. The exceptions are that Outlook for Mac offers no customizability and Excel and PowerPoint have no settings to add or remove from the ribbon. The keyboard shortcut Command + Option + R will show and hide the ribbon in all applications except for Excel, which has no keyboard shortcut.